The Legend of Gentleman John by T.J. Nichols
1813 Ireland – 1818 Australia
As someone who loves long stories, I am always amazed by those talented enough to write a complete, engaging short story and The Legend of Gentleman John manages to tell an emotional and compelling tale in 40 pages. The story begins with John on the run, having sought vengeance against the sadistic head officer of the penal colony who had been brutalizing John since he was transported to Australia, and goes back and forth between the year he met his fae lover, Banyn, and his present situation.
Born into the wrong body, John O’Rourke is a 16-year-old runaway, starving to death in a church cemetery, when he sees Banyn through the mist. Unable to watch and wait for John to die and having been seen, Banyn offers him the choice between living or dying. Having learned from Banyn that he has to take what he wants in order to survive on the streets, John falls into the life of a pickpocket.
Disguised as a young boy and living in constant fear of discovery, John treasures the stolen moments and interludes he has with Banyn because Banyn sees him for who he is on the inside. When transported to Australia, the vast distance from the land of his power and the presence of supernatural beings inherent to Australia force John and Banyn apart, but with their love and John’s resilience and determination, Banyn is able to grant John his heart’s greatest wish in the end. For those looking for a story that centers Christmas and the holiday season, The Legend of Gentleman John does not give you that, but it does give you a well-written, magical story of love that knows no boundaries.
Late 19th Century America
In Colina de Lavanda, when the town’s founder and mayor, Edward, is faced with forces that threaten his town’s resources, people, and their future, he must confront the man behind the legend he’s built and what is most important to him. Although Edward originally built Colina as a haven for men who like men, he quickly realized that many people need a place where they can be free and happy to live their lives as they choose, and is proud to run a town where people from all walks of life can find sanctuary, family, and a place to belong. With an unseasonal drought and heatwave that has continued into December, Edward is tasked with figuring out a way to combat the heat, as well as discover if the tonic sold by the local snake-oil salesman is causing illness and wasting in its consumers. The only person in town who can help him with either problem is Shu, a Cantonese mage and the man who Edward left because Shu wanted monogamy and Edward prizes freedom above all else.
On the whole, the story is enjoyable enough; the town and supernatural elements are interesting, and Edward’s realizes that even if he can have other men, the only one he wants is Shu, and their final interlude is sweet and steamy. However, the majority of the story felt a bit flat to me. Since the relationship between Shu and Edward isn’t the story’s main focus, I needed to really enjoy the motivation for the plot and its subsequent action, but I didn’t. Most of the narrative’s action occurs because of a choice Edward makes that I just couldn’t see as anything other than highly stupid and reckless. Later on, the narrative hints at Edward’s sense of untouchability and hubris that may have led to that decision, but while it was happening, it just seemed so contrived and that feeling of “seriously?“ and “well of course” never quite left me enough to just enjoy the rest of the story since it was all motivated by that one choice. However, the story is well-written and has an interwoven message about inclusiveness that is much-appreciated. If you have a higher tolerance for MCs making unwise decisions simply for curiosity’s sake and like a nice blend of supernatural and magic, then you’ll enjoy Colina de Lavanda.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.